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Innovation: Complexity, Contradictions and Costs

By Michael S. Slocum

Business Excellence Triad
The holy grail of business performance has long been the simultaneous realization of time, cost and quality. The right product delivered at the right time with the right margin – the business excellence triad. Many organizations have built prosperous businesses on this model. The path to success has been based on the juxtaposition of these points. Traditional companies have mastered the delivery of any two of the points and customers have accepted this.

These aspects which may have delighted customers in the past are quickly, however, becoming expected. This means that there is no longer appeal for delivering any two of the three. It will not be long until all three will be demanded – and, in some cases, already are demanded.

There are types of projects where this triad does not apply, such as the international space station or the Seawolf class submarine. Cost and delivery are less important to a customer when quality is the primary driver. The business community needs to transition to a new set of metrics that describes the current environment and creates a new set of delighters. Evolution and maturity in the realms of productivity (the first wave: Frederick Taylor, Henry Ford, Shigeo Shingo, Taiichi Ohno, Toyota Production System – TPS, Lean) and quality (the second wave: Edwards Deming, Joseph Juran, Armand Feigenbaum, Phil Crosby, R.A. Fischer, Walter Shewhart, Six Sigma) have helped to achieve excellence in business; realization of the triad has been achieved. With these significant advances, delivering products with the needed margin has been reduced to an exact science. If business evolution is to be driven again, then a new desired state must be identified.

The Information Axiom
Axiomatic design contains the information axiom, which states that two otherwise equal systems may be differentiated by analyzing the information content in each. The system that contains the least amount of information is considered to be the least complex. The least complex system possesses the least complexity. A reduction in complexity yields fewer failure modes and more robust performance vs. noise factors. The system also provides a problem solving environment with fewer interactions, making achieving the ideal solution an easier task. There is also the potential for fewer secondary and tertiary problem generations during problem solving.

How to Move Forward
Systematic compromise must be targeted for removal. Previously waste (Lean) and variation (Six Sigma) have been targeted; now it is necessary to target the acceptance of trade-offs in a system. This can be done by applying advances in the evolving field of innovation (the third wave: Clayton Christensen, Peter Drucker, Henry Chesbrough, Genrich Altshuller, the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving – TRIZ).

The TRIZ methodology targets contradictions in a system and allows for the application of algorithms designed to eliminate them. Achieving the right product at the right time with minimal compromise will drive business evolution again. This is more appropriate for the advanced consumer and is more applicable for those special programs like the space station and the submarine program. This new set of metrics allows companies to differentiate themselves and offer advanced performance to their customers. This will drive the next generation of business development and prepare companies for continued performance improvement for the foreseeable future. The new triad provides the demanded cost characteristic as well as the desirable (and needed) characteristics of contradictions and complexity.

About the Author:
Michael S. Slocum, Ph.D., is the principal and chief executive officer of The Inventioneering Company. Contact Michael S. Slocum at michael (at) or visit